Fernando Salas arrived in New York at a time when its bullpen was stretched thin. Acquired for minor leaguer Erik Manoah on the last day before major league rosters expanded to 40 last year, Salas played a crucial role for the Mets down the stretch, pitching in 17 of their final 29 games. After allowing just four runs and no walks in 17.1 last season, Salas was re-signed by the Mets in February to a one-year, $3 million deal.
The Mets are Salas’ third team, as the righty spent most of his early career with the Cardinals before being traded to the Angels as part of the Randal Grichuk-Peter Bourjos deal. His 73.2 innings pitched last year was the second-highest total of his career behind his 75-inning, age-26 season back in 2011. Additionally, his 75 appearances in 2016 set a career high, though he has appeared in at least 65 games in four of the last six seasons.
Salas has three pitches in his repertoire: fastball, changeup, and slider/knuckle-curve-type breaking pitch. His fastball has consistently averaged 90-91 mph throughout his career, while his changeup is only about 5 mph slower. Over his career, he has typically been a fly ball pitcher, but in 2016 he posted a career-high 39.2 percent ground ball rate. Dan Szymborki’s ZiPS projections have Salas recording a 3.80 ERA in 2017 with a 3.54 FIP and 0.6 fWAR.
With Jeurys Familia’s suspension looming, Salas will likely play a pivotal role in the Mets’ bullpen to start the 2017 season. Addison Reed will likely slide into the closer role for however long Familia is out, leaving Salas as one of the top setup man candidates. One potential way things could shake down, which we got a glimpse of toward the end of 2016, is Salas and Jerry Blevins splitting set-up duties based on a batter’s handedness.
Because Salas has not pitched very much this spring, however, it is difficult to project his role right out of the gate. The 31-year-old participated in the World Baseball Classic for his native Mexico, but due to the team’s elimination after the opening round, Salas only pitched one inning in the tournament. Then, Salas was held up with a visa issue as he was trying to return to the Mets in Florida and only returned to the United States late March 18. Since his return, Salas has logged just two spring training innings in three appearances. He allowed three runs in a full inning on March 22.
Whatever role Salas ends up having, he will likely be a consistent performer. It’s been a hallmark of his career thus far, and there aren’t any indications that will change in 2017.